Key notes on the Structure of Argument



Logic is concerned with the analysis and evaluation of arguments. For this we should be able to recognise and identify arguments. It is a fact that our arguments are not always available in a neatly stated form. Thus, to recognise a passage as expressing an argument, we should look at the context of its occurrence.

We come across arguments in debates, in a law court, in legislative chambers, in mathematical proofs. One is also confronted with arguments in ordinary day-to-day life.

As a student of logic, one should be able to determine whether a passage does or does not express any argument. So, an enquiry into the distinction between argumentative and non-argumentative passages will be instructive. Firstly, if in a given passage no statement is connected with the other then surely the passage is not argumentative.

Hence the minimum requirement of any passage to express an argument or a series of arguments is that the statements should be connected in such way that they collectively justify or support the truth of a claim. Consider the following passage.

"The Moon goes round the Earth. All happy men are virtuous. All great scholars are eccentric."

Here no statement is connected with the other. Hence it is not an argumentative passage. Arguments should be distinguished from narrative passages which may consist of loosely connected set of statements. Consider the following passage. Dasarath was the king of Ayodhya. He had three queens and four sons. Ram was his eldest son. Ram was very kind to everybody. Sita, the princess of Mithila, was his wife.

Here we have narrated several statements but no claim has been made either explicitly or implicitly about any one of them on the basis of the rest. Hence, no argument is involved in the above passage. On the other hand consider the following passage.

All teachers deserve our respect because they are our seniors and our seniors deserve our respect.

This passage is clearly argumentative. All the sentences are well connected. It is claimed that all teachers deserve our respect. This is the conclusion of the argument. In support of this conclusion reasons have been given. The reasons are stated in the two statements: (1) Our seniors deserve our respect and (2) Teachers are our seniors. These two statements are the premises which together provide reasons for the conclusion.

Secondly, in order to identify an argument, we have to identify its premises as well as the conclusion. Usually in an argument the conclusion is preceded by an expression such as "so", "hence", "thus", "therefore", "as a result", "for this reason", "it is proved that" etc. We call such expressions conclusion indicators.

A conclusion is a sentence which begins with any of the conclusion indicator words or phrases.

An argument may also have premise indicators. The expressions such as "since", "because", "for", "as", "follows from", "as shown by" etc. are called premise-indicators. Usually premises of an argument begin with or are preceded by the premise indicator expressions.

For example, if we assert "P because Q" then Q being preceded by a premise indicator signals that Q is the premise of the argument. The same is the case with conclusion-indicators. Note that indicator words do not always signal the presence of an argument.

For instance, in the sentence "Sita is living in City since her marriage to Ashok" the word "since" indicates a temporal connection rather than a premise in any argument. In the sentence "Ram resigned from his job because of his illness" the word 'because' indicates a casual connection, not an argument. It should be further noted that the non-occurrence of premise or elusion indicator is a passage does not indicate that the passage is not argumentative.

In other words, a passage might be argumentative even when the indicator words or phrases are absent. To decide the nature of the passage we have to look at the context of stating the passage.

Thirdly, if a passage consists of just one statement then it does not express an argument. Because, an argument consists of at least one premise and a conclusion. Usually an argument consists of a set of statements which are the premises and another statement which is the conclusion. An argument has the following general from:

P (a set of premises)

Therefore, Q (the conclusion)

Fourthly, there can be passages that are explanatory, in nature without being argumentative. If our interest is to establish the truth of a statement say 'Q' on the basis of another statement 'P' then " Q. because P" states an argument. On the contrary, if the truth of "Q" is unproblematic and we have no intention of justify "Q" on the basis of "P" then the formulation "Q because P" is an explanation of why Q occurred. Therefore, the difference between an argumentative and explanatory passage is really dependent on our interest or purpose of stating or using the passage in question.